Just past the Clorox giveaway and poll, you’ll find an actual post. 🙂 I promise.
When I first become a parent, I didn’t expect that raising kids would be just as much about growing me as it was about growing these kids. By our tenth anniversary, deep in the midst of parenting 4 kids under 8, I certainly felt the growing beginning. But it turns out that parenting our older-adopted kids has stretched and grown me the most. Continues to grow me. And, wow, that stretching can hurt.
Our girls who came home from Ethiopia in 2007 are now 14 and 16. We also have three teen boys, ages 13, 13, and 17. My world is awash in hormones. Recently I was talking with my wise momma (who raised 8 kids), frustrated over the attitudes that often simmer around here, and she said in all seriousness, “You can’t make a 13 year old happy, Mary.”
At the time, as a mom of three 13-year-olds, I laughed. If that’s true, no wonder we seem to have drama every day around here. The swirling emotion baffles me many days. I’ve always had a little Spock in me, always been vaguely uneasy in the world of emotion, have always leaned more on logic than feelings. In childhood when a sibling of mine would be headed on an emotion-laden tangent, I remember watching wide-eyed, thinking, ‘Stop. This is so unnecessary.’
I still tend in that direction to a certain degree. I want my kids happy– what mom doesn’t? I’ll listen and empathize when they share their grievances. But my response to unhappy kids has always leaned more towards pep talks than emotional reflection. My default mom-speech often contains variations of ‘work hard, do right, tell me what you’re thankful for, and trust God to fix what you can’t.’ I’m not trying to deny that negative feelings exist–well, ok, maybe I am a little. Down deep I don’t trust them. I like my rose-colored glasses.
My ‘work hard, trust God, be thankful’ mantra worked reasonably well for kids who were born to us or who came to us as babies, and were relatively free of emotional baggage. But parenting kids with a history of trauma just isn’t that simple. And, oh, the pain we’ve all felt as I’ve slowly, slowly come to that realization.
I want adoptive parenting of older kids to be as straightforward as parenting the unwounded. But here’s the truth, straight and simple. Avoiding angst won’t make it go away. (Heaven knows we’ve tried that route.) Punishing the misbehavior that springs from the angst isn’t a sure solution either– yup, even if you consequence consistently. (We’ve tried that too. For years.)
I’ve come to the realization, ever-so-unwillingly (the Spock in me resisting all the way) that I’m being called to parent on a deeper level these days. I’ve GOT to muck around in the emotional mess with my kids. I have to draw kids out, hear hard things, try to figure out motivation they haven’t even puzzled through, to help them get better at verbalizing the soul-snarls that steal their peace.
Sometimes an hour or two in the bedroom puzzling things over with an angry kid gets feelings unpacked a bit. Other times all it does is show them I’m willing to go there with them, and makes it obvious that I care and want to help. And maybe for that day, that’s enough. I hope so.
I’ve come to another realization, one that fills me with regret on behalf of my older ones; it probably would have been better to have parented in this way the whole time. Yeah, what we did seems to have worked. By the grace of God, they’re great kids. But I could have done a much better job at raising them to be emotionally savvy, able to more adeptly sort through the thicket of emotion that clutters heads and hearts.
I’m realizing now, though, that I probably couldn’t have led them on that journey until I’d taken it myself. A decade ago I wasn’t far enough on my own emotional journey. But God knew where I needed to go, and how to get me there. Steadily, faithfully, He’s been growing me through pain, and in the process making me more able to lead my loved ones through their own pain.
Part of that journey has been facing my own ineffectiveness, my own inability to turn a situation around. I’m one of those efficient people, a logical problem-solver through and through, sure that if I just work hard enough that I can find a solution. But the challenges my kids face have left me spinning my wheels, utterly ineffective. I can (and do) spend literally hours one day talking a kid through emotional land-mines, trying to puzzle out the ‘why’ of bad attitudes and choices, encouraging the child toward right, only to see the very same problems the very next day — sometimes even before breakfast. I’m like a bike with training wheels set too low, pedaling madly and not getting anywhere.
Seeing my child floundering in unhappiness makes me doubt my effectiveness. Are we really getting anywhere? Can a person be a good parent and have a miserable kid? Some days the answer to both feels like ‘no’.
But that’s when it actually helps to step away from the emotion, to go back to my Spock side, to remember where my hope lies. Not in my child. Not in my own smarts. My hope is in the Lord.
No matter how it feels to me, no matter how it feels to my child, God is orchestrating our lives with his perfect wisdom. I think that’s part of what my mom was trying to remind me. I can’t focus on a person’s happiness or lack of it. Yes, I need to not give up. I need to keep doing good-mom things to the best of my ability. Teach and train and consequence in a way that encourages obedience and respect, trusting that eventually, someday, by God’s perfect power, there will be fruit.
Any burdens I feel about the adequacy of my parenting need to be laid on God’s shoulders instead of carrying them on my own. I am called to be faithful. To go in the direction that He has led. But always, always, ALWAYS the battle– and the outcome– belongs to the Lord.